Tue, Aug 28, 2007 - Page 7 News List

FARC says prisoner swap must take place in Colombia


Colombia's largest guerrilla group will only agree to a prisoner exchange within Colombian territory, a top rebel commander said in a published interview.

Raul Reyes spoke publicly for the first time since Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last week offered his country as neutral ground to pursue an exchange of hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for jailed rebels.

In the interview on Sunday by Clarin, South America's largest-circulation daily, Reyes thanked Chavez for "this gesture" and called it a "new impulse" in efforts to resolve the issue.

"But we continue to maintain that any exchange, being a problem deriving from an internal conflict, must be resolved within Colombia," he told a Clarin correspondent at an unspecified "southern Colombian jungle" location. "We are not going to hand over prisoners in Venezuela."

The FARC holds hundreds of hostages, including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, whom they say they will free in exchange for the release of imprisoned guerrillas and a temporary demilitarized zone inside Colombia.

Chavez plans to fly to Colombia later this week to meet Colombian President Alvaro Uribe but said he will only press his mediation if Uribe and rebel leaders are open to the idea.

Responding to the interview, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos downplayed any hopes that Chavez's involvement might lead to a breakthrough.

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